HERMON, Maine — When you’ve never beaten an opponent before, a tie is not the most disappointing result to achieve.
The Hermon boys soccer team took a most defensive approach to its battle with perennial power Ellsworth under a harvest moon at Pottle Field on Thursday evening, and while it didn’t produce total victory, the 0-0 tie through two five-minute overtimes felt nearly as good to the Hawks.
“We had not been playing up to our potential so far this year, and I asked the kids to step it up today and they really did,” said Hermon coach Scott Deabay, whose team is now 2-2-1. “What an effort.”
And while Hermon left the field with smiles on their faces, Ellsworth was left to lament the first minor blemish on its 3-0-1 record while still not having allowed a goal during the course of play this year. The only goal yielded by the Eagles so far came on a penalty kick during their season-opening 2-1 win at Presque Isle on Sept. 7.
But the issue for the Eagles on this bright night wasn’t their defense — senior goalie Steven Mahon made all five saves that were required on Hermon’s occasional counterattacking forays — but the inability to penetrate a Hawks’ defensive formation that included five fullbacks and four midfielders in front of junior goalkeeper Hunter Clukey.
“They backed in on defense a little bit, and a team that backs up on defense is going to save a lot of goals,” said Ellsworth coach Brian Higgins. “I thought they played inspired and played a good game and we just couldn’t knock it in.”
Ellsworth did generate 18 shots but few tested Clukey, who made eight saves. Most of the Eagles’ chances came not on kicked shots, but on headers after corner kicks or long throw-ins, a staple of their attack.
“We changed our whole entire formation just for this game,” said senior back Matt Cullens. “We needed to hold strong on defense and we did what we needed to do.
“Since we hadn’t even tied them ever before, it was worth it.”
Cullens teamed with fellow defenders Jake Applebee, Nate Lynch, Dan Emerson and sweeper Billy Mixer to congest Ellsworth’s offensive zone and give the Eagles only rare shooting lanes to the goal.
“We decided we were going to try to slow their offense down,” said Deabay. “They’re very skilled and they run very, very well, so the only thing we could do was to change it up to a 5-4-1. We took our opportunities when we could and we had some chances, some very good chances, and I think the defense held very, very well.
“That’s a good club, though.”
Most of Ellsworth’s best opportunities came during the first half, among them a long-range shot by Sid St. Peter that bounced off the middle of the crossbar and threatening headers by Conor Maguire and Ben Haslam off restarts.
“That’s our game,” said Higgins, whose team has outscored its opponents 9-1 so far this year. “Usually we can count on one goal a game on a corner kick, but that’s just not happening so far this year.”
The second half was played more evenly from a territorial perspective, with Hermon generating the first scoring bid of the period as sophomore Matthew Allen got a counterattacking clean look before hitting a low show that Mahon handled without difficulty.
A bid by Haslam from just outside the penalty area on the left wing required Clukey to be alert at the near post in the waning minutes of regulation.